The last few days we’ve been having some occasionally contentious discussion about where marriage fits in with the church and the state. I had started to worry that if even Christians don’t know what marriage is, how it is constituted, and how it is governed, how is it going to be possible to defend it from all of the attacks? But then, after thinking about some things Pastor Cwirla said and Scylding’s historical perspective, thins started to crystalize in my mind. How about if we consider marriage as follows:
(1) God did establish three distinct orders or estates for human life: the church, the family, and the state.
(2) Marriage is the foundational vocation of the family.
(3) The family, like the state, is part of the temporal order, God’s Earthly Kingdom.
(4) The family has a unique, intimate connection with God, since marriage is an image of Christ and the Church, and parenthood is an image of God’s Fatherhood. Thus, it is related to God’s Spiritual Kingdom.
(5) Both Kingdoms must help, support, and defend marriage: the State by means of laws, enforcement, and temporal power; the Church by means of blessing, prayer, teaching, and pastoral care.
(6) What constitutes a marriage–that is, the creation of a new family–is the consent and the vows of the couple, followed by a sexual consummation. (This is actually the formulation of the canon law that sees marriage as a sacrament; it accords with Protestant traditions; and, I believe, it is the universal cultural practice.)
(7) When Christian couples marry, their vows, publicly proclaimed in the marriage ceremony, should be ratified both by the Church (in the marriage rite) and by the State (in the marriage license with its accompanying laws).
How does that sound? Could we all agree on this? Does it accord with Scripture? Does it violate any confessional teachings of any church body?
Discussions of God’s Earthly Kingdom generally focus on the State. But I’m thinking now that the Family is a better test case for the Kingdom of the Left. The State with its authority is more remote. The Family with its authorities, relationships, the necessity of making a living, and its temporal blessings provides a more dramatic and immediate example of God’s presence and provision in vocation.